Sunday, 27 July 2014

Eid give-away! Get a comics package in the post


To celebrate Eid, and the end of Ramadhan, and also to thank people for reading and support the blog, I thought it would be fun to do a give-away- a comics give-away! My inital thought was to do one big giveaway, but I wanted to include people reading outside of the UK, and that would have most likely bankrupt me, so I thought of another idea- one which I think is better and cooler. I have too many comics- I buy a lot, and I'm lucky enough to be sent quite a few for review purposes as well, but I only have limited storage space. So I'm getting rid of a load- in the form of surprise Eid comics packages! If you want a package of comics, stickers, postcards and sweets, send me an email at znbakhtar@yahoo.co.uk containing your name and the address to which you'd like the package sent. Put 'Eid comics package' as the subject line. The first ten people to email me  will all receive a comics package (I'm sending comics out at random- you won't be able to pick and choose). Feel free to enter regardless of where you live in the world. I will not be replying to any emails, unless i need clarification on an address, or some such detail. You have until Friday to enter.  All comics are either brand new or have been read once only. The comics pictured above are just some of what I've got to give away.

Thank you all very much for reading, and Eid Mubarak!

UPDATE: These are all gone- thank you! If you like the Facebook page here, I'll make an announcement of everyone who won a package on there in a couple of days. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

James Stokoe's Avengers #1 special: the power of three

I've talked about this a bit for a single issue, so I thought I'd do a brief review of it- the 'it' being James Stokoe's Marvel 100th Anniversary special issue, an Avengers #1, which he drew, lettered, coloured, wrote and generally gave birth to. Also, the chance to have some of that Stokoe good stuff prettying up my blog is too much for me to pass up. My familiarity with the characters -Dr Strange, Rogue, Beta Ray Bill- and universe here is nil (or very superficial, in that I know of their names and have seen some of them in films), but that doesn't affect the reading; this is accessible to all (I'm sure there are references that can be appreciated by long-term fans). It's a contained story, that quickly establishes the setting and scenario via a great 'previously on...' introductory page (you can see, and probably read, it here): there's been a huge war with the Badoon Empire, which has left Earth barely victorious: poisonous and polluted, and thanks to the deployment of of the Great terror Weapon, the whole American continent has been transported to the negative zone. A devastated Captain America's gone in search of his home-land, and the Avengers are scattered and displaced, setting base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is where we open.

It's barely been a week since the war ended, and Dr Strange, Rouge, and Beta Ray Bill are still doing clean-up rounds, patrolling the skies sat atop a flying pyramid-shaped craft: the Quinjet. On the ground, a couple of guys engaged in the clean-up effort spot the jet and argue about the importance of the Avengers, a discussion that's left hanging when the stumble upon a threat of a different kind- the moloids! Having lost their homeland, Subterranea, in the wars, the desperate moloids are bent on taking Earth for their own- the question is whether Strange, Rogue, and Bill will be enough to stop them.

I had such a bad day on Wednesday and this comic was the only little ray of light in it. It serves as an example of what Stokoe can do, even in as condensed a story as this. He makes the right choice in keeping it relatively simple (there's a lot of detail in the back-matter and placing of context): no great group of characters to get to grips with, limited to 3-with guest appearance by Tony Stark, and the scenario in which they find themselves is equally straightforward- these dudes fighting those dudes. I really liked that pared back approach, a more subdued Stokoe in terms of writing and things going on; it allows the reader to take in the art more and boy, is it gorgeous- the lines finer than ever. I feel like I've not seen Stokoe use a block red in his work often- always a lot of pink and gradients, and the usage of it pops here, in Rogues jumpsuit and Strange and Bill's capes, binding the three together. Above all, I appreciated the positivity of the narrative and resolution: it's fun and serious- not in the sense of grittiness/darkness, but of heft and some depth, respecting the story. Stokoe's a complete cartoonist in his ability to execute his vision proficiently- the real deal, and I feel lucky to be around while he's doing his thing. Pick this up if you haven't already.

I pulled 3 of my favourite panels to show off: I really like the composition of this one (below)- the moloids attacking inwardly from the left in a wave, almost like a right-directional arrow and Strange, Rogue and Beta Ray Bill forming a repelling triangle. Note how the background's hazier and out of focus, lighter colours, and the figures and foreground sharp and vibrant:


This one is lovely- Dr Strange, centred (you see what I did there), floating as he draws upon his powers to prepare for what he's about to do. It invokes a sense of serenity, despite the psychedelic and comsic implications. The softer tone is achieved by breaking up the rays so that they're not strong solid blocks of colour, and using slightly lighter shades.


And my final pick: again the three Avengers centered at the top and everybody else at the bottom- this is almost another triangle shape. Those pops of red I talked about earlier come into play here, as they differentiate Starnge, Rogue, and Bill from all else. Also: giant turtle.

Pippi Longstocking: a hero for all times


Two of the best all-ages comics are currently being published by Drawn and Quarterly, and both are English language translations of European comics. I've talked about Anouk Ricard's excellent Anna and Froga series previously, and hope to do so at greater length in the future, but today I want to talk a little about the Pippi Longstocking comics D&Q have been releasing- the third volume of which- Pippi Won't Grow Up- is due for publication this October.  Although aware of Astrid Lindgren's iconic character, I never read Pippi as a kid (or later) so I have no prior attachments or associations (having also managed to miss the movies and TV show), which may have contributed to my loving these comic off the bat. Interestingly, these comics were written by Astrid Lindgren herself, and illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman who was also responsible for the chapter illustrations in Lindgren's Pippi prose books. Originally published in Sweden, they ran in Humpty Dumpty magazine from 1957 and 1959, as an expansion on the books: 'the further adventures of Pippi' sort of thing.  

Translated by Tiina Nunnally, I was surprise at just how taken I was by these; I often find some older styles to be impenetrable and static, and there's certainly an element of that here, but it's played of by the bright colours and the personality and character of the book and Pippi. It's served well, too by the sheer oddness of some stylistic choices- a major one of which is the way in which Vang Nyman renders the children's eyes- a strangely un-moving almond shape, while giving the adults the traditionally rounded oval peepers. It has a slight flat-eyed, creepy Chucky doll effect initially, but as you go along, it settles and becomes one more quirky thing amongst several, all of which meld together to give the book its unique tone. Van Nyman's style is probably in vogue as appropriately retro now, but that aside it carries its age very well, and her familiarity with the subject matter feed into her ability to complement Lindgren and infuse the text with deliciously off-beat humour and a distinctive weirdness. Words like universal and timeless are frequently bandied about, yet when they are truly applicable to a work, it's a hallmark of how remarkable it is: that it can be read years later and still delight and resonate.  

Having not read the Pippi books, I'm unfamiliar with the line they take, but here the narratives have a strong vein of genuine oddness that Lindgren plays straight. In the first book, Pippi moves to a new town, on her own devoid of parents or guardians, filthy rich, buying out sweet shops for the neighbourhood children, a lot of classic childish wish-fulfillment. But she's also the strongest girl in the world- tossing cruel circus handlers over her shoulder, wrestling with tigers, throwing tired horses over her shoulder: 'Everyone should be nice to animals, and carry them when they're tired.' Lindgren inserts quite a few ideological nuggets: Pippi doesn't go to school, and when she attends curiously to see what her friends get up to all day, she doesn't understand the rigidity of the structure or thought, which leads to some wonderful exchanges between her and the teacher:   

'All right Pippi dear, let's see if you can add. How much is five plus seven?'
'Shouldn't you already know that? 
'Pippi, sit properly! And five plus seven is twelve.'
'See, you knew all along. Why'd you ask me?'

Or ' 'I' is for Ivan the hedgehog' says the teacher, holding up a picture of a hedgehog with the letter 'i.' written next to it. 'I don't buy it. I think it looks like a black line with a spot on the top.'

Of course, sometimes she gets things wrong, like not knowing how to behave properly when invited to dinner, but for the most part she's everything you'd want in a role model for children: individual, strong, fearless, loyal, smart, resourceful, and independent. Pippi doesn't have a mother, but in the second book, her father turns up for a visit (although not before she's intercepted and dealt with a couple of robbers who break into her house in the middle of the night), with whom she has a fantastic relationship with, and they have a splendid time together, as further hi-jinks ensue (you begin to see where she gets it from). I am, ostensibly, an adult and I enjoy these books immensely- the spirit in them is so vibrant and individual and natural with it- singular, refreshing and unlike any other kids books I've come across. I don't doubt that they'd be a huge hit with children too.


Pippi dealing with ghosts and setting life goals:


I really like this page (below), particularly the final panel of  the yellow burning house: the stylisation of the licking flames and contrasting blue window frame, the angles and red of the old-school fire engine and the fire-men's uniforms, made complete with Pippi throwing her arms up in delight and exclamation: 'What a blaze!'. That panel of Pippi riding heroically to the rescue on a white steed, her faithful little monkey accompanying her is pretty great, too:


Sorting out bullies, eating endless supplies of cake, sledging:


Attempting to get rescued after losing their boat:


D&Q have done a superb job with these books, hardback with spot-glossed covers, and gloriously bold end-papers, and double page spreads at both the beginning and end.


Retrofit announce 2015 line-up: Sophie Franz, Laura Knetzger, Yumi Sakugawa, Maré Odomo, more

Sophie Franz
Yumi Sakugawa
























Tom Spurgeon broke the news of Retrofit Comics's 2015 line-up and it's one that's got me really, really excited, as it features a number of exiting and excellent comic creators whose work I'm a fan of, as well as few I haven't heard of. The four comics I'm most looking forward to here are those by Laura Knetzger, Maré Odomo, Sophie Franz, and Yumi Sakugawa. Kntezger and Odomo are both beasts at this comics thing, having published comics online and in print for a few years; Odomo's focusing more on the visually poetic, although he's probably best known for the Pokemon comics Letters to an Absent Father, while Knetzger also works in a variety of styles- amazing work like this, and her most notable comics work the 10-issue long Bug Boys. Sakugawa is probably best-know for her acclaimed and hugely popular I Think I Am In Friend Love With You, which began life as an online comic and was later published as a hardback book by Adams Media. If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm a huge admirer of Sohpie Franz's work (her recent gouache paintings have been superb), having discussed it previously here and here, and am delighted that we'll be able to get out hands on a print comic to drool over. Below is the full line-up of artists making up Retrofit's 2015 schedule:


But... that's not all! Box Brown has been a whirlwind of activity, it would seem, as he;s also announced the impending publication of a few other, more specialist projects, which aren't a part of the 'regular' mini-comic line. The first is an art book from the award-winning cartoonist Steven Weissman, who has a distinctive and attractive style, which I think will be showcased perfectly for this sort of set-up; that's one I'm definitely keeping an eye out for. If you haven't already, go check out his frankly hilarious and brilliant  Barack Hussein Obama strips. The second project involves a special edition of Future Shock, edited by Josh Burggraf, with James Kochalka's Fungus: The Unbearable Rot Of Being bringing up the rear. Kochalka's book will be a 108 page, perfect-bound book (the first for the publisher, I believe), '"surreal and funny outsider look at the elements of our own reality,' and is set for release at SPX later this year. In addition, Brown will be continuing his Number 1 anthology comic series with 2 more installments, as well as looking to fit in any further initiatives, should the schedule permits. I don't know how he does it, but I'm very glad he does, and it's great to see Retrofit expanding and pushing from strength to strength in this manner. Lots to be excited for here.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

SDCC update: new Hellboy & BPRD, Mike Mignola's awesome Toy Story poster


Lots coming out of SDCC, as ever- Image have announced 12 new books, and Dark Horse 24, I believe, with no doubt more to come from various publishers. I don't really follow ongoing series, but my ears did prick up at the report of a new Hellboy comic. As with most things, I came to Hellboy higgledy piggledy, having decided to check out the comics after watching and enjoying the films, and reading them in library edition format. I was really surprised by who different it was in tone, especially the later half of the series, where Mike Mignola chooses to isolate the character and the books became increasingly King-Lear-wandering-the-moors-ish. I started reading BPRD in the omnibus Plague of Frog versions, but they seem to have stalled, and I'm yet to catch up on the trades. This new book, penned by Mignola with John Arcudi, coloured by Dave Stewart, and illustrated by Alex Maleev brings Hellboy and the BPRD together once more, although perhaps not in the way you might expect.

Set in 1952, Hellboy & the BPRD narrates the tale of Hellboy's very first mission, before he became a member of the BPRD, as he and a group of agents are dispatched by Professor Bruttenholm to investigate a series of murders taking place in a small Brazilian village, that may be something more... something terrible hidden  in the shadows of a sixteenth-century Portuguese fortress. The first issue of Hellboy & the BPRD will go on sale December 3rd, 2014.

In other Mike Mignola/SDCC news, he's created a poster for the upcoming Toy Story holiday special: Toy Story That Time Forgot. This is ABC’s second Toy Story-themed special, reuniting the Disney and Pixar toys after last year’s Halloween short Toy Story of Terror. Toy Story That Time Forgot finds the gang in unchartered territory, as a post-Christmas play date sees them encountering the coolest set of action figures ever... who also turn out to be the most dangerously delusional, leaving it to Trixie the triceratops to save the day and lead the toys home. It's got dinosaurs. Enough said.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Winshluss: storming heaven


I've been waiting for this one since it came out in French last year from publishers Les Requins Marteaux. It is French artist Winshluss' (aka Vincent Paronnaud) follow up to his epic and searingly brilliant re-imagining of Pinocchio, the English language edition of which was released by UK publishers Knockabout in 2011, and is probably the best re-telling of anything ever (in all seriousness, though, it's staggeringly good, and you should check it out instantly if you're not familiar with it. Here's a Tumblr photo-set I put together a while back to help you along the way). In God We Trust is another re-telling, this time of the Bible, as Saint Franky Of Assisi guides the reader through various well-known passages in the Old and the New Testaments, although no doubt they'll be much changed from what you may be familiar with. I'll be picking this up on the strength of Pinnochio, and from what I've seen of the art, it looks like Winshluss has once again unleashed his unique drawing demon, but religion can always be a strange subject to take on in satire, because people generally do tend to lean either one way or another. I'm interested to see how it'll play out; expect a lot of parody and irreverence.

Luckily Knockabout were very quick in picking this one up, and it's due for release on the 24th of September:

'Winshluss returns with the hilarious In God We Trust. His multi-levelled retelling of The Bible revises the founding myths of the holy book. We are guided through the maze of the Old and New Testament by St. Franky, with a nose like a strawberry from drinking altar wine and a sceptical attitude. God looks like a retired biker and is a shy and alcoholic seducer, Jesus had a punk phase, Mary is naive and lonely. From the comic book parody (God vs Superman) to the adulterous tragedy, through the story of creation and a study of the disappearance of the dinosaurs to the mystery of the resurrection, the density of the book will leave the reader no respite from the horrors suffered by an inept and inconsistent humanity and the acts of an apathetic, drunk, and jaded divine power.'




Monday, 21 July 2014

Fish: stringing along death


Fish by Bianca Bagnarelli, Nobrow Press

Milo's parents died in a car-crash last summer, and he now lives with his grandparents on the French Riviera. It's the summer after the accident, and his cousins are here to visit, although Milo is still grieving; wondering about death, why it happens, explanations and reasons for it, how it relates to life, the purpose of it. He sees it in everything around him: the dead fish in the stream, the wilting flowers at the table, the shrimp he's eating for dinner. The feeling is that if he could establish meaning for it, he might be better able to understand and process his parents death.

Fish is a shorter comic- 24 pages in length, but the narrative ebb and flow, along with the tone is perfectly judged: the story spooling out naturally, veering into neither mawkish-ness or despair. Milo is similarly effectively etched, with Bagnanrelli providing the reader a grasp on the young boy with ease: still raw with grief, smart, relatively taciturn, but also sorting through his emotions and thoughts- although this isn't so much about resolutions and closure as it is about being within that zone, that experience, itself.

Bagnanrelli's art stuns here; she has a clear, clean style that resides between the geometric and almost visceral- and by that I mean I often associate a sense of tactile-ness in the way she renders things- generally natural elements, like the fluffiness of a cloud. All else will be still and calm but that cloud will look like if you touch it, wisps of cotton will cling to your fingers. The problem I have always had with more formalistic art -or what I deem as such: precise, geometric styles- is that it closes off entry for the reader. Chris Ware's comics, for example, while undeniably beautiful, intricate and skilled don't allow you to imprint or connect with them at all- it's all Ware maintaining control and dictating another sad story. Bagnarelli shares an ability with Jon McNaught to convey a shifting tautology of stillness that can suggest tension and serenity equally, the straightness of her lines and shapes offset by the softer facets of her colouring and the traditionally expressive. Even on the very first page you get the two sides to Bagnarelli's style in the framing top and bottom wide panels: the first ruled, geometric, linear; the second with fluffy, almost furry candy-flossed trees.



It's a truly gorgeous book: the fine-lined vistas here, the dappled leaves, sun-drenched scenes that encapsulate the heat of summer- she conveys light beautifully, sun-light reflected in water, streaking through the trees. Her colour palette is beautiful; in a book set ocean-side she never once uses blue or yellow, sticking instead to a largely purple/pink/red scheme that manages to be less harsh, more contained. The most impressive thing about Fish is the careful weighting and thought obvious in each component and yet bought together seamlessly; artless in execution to create something which is neither answer nor question, but existent in its complexity and subtlety, and the richer for it.


Titan to publish Druillet's 6 Journeys of Lone Sloane in 2015


A while back, I asked Oliver if he owned anything by Philippe Druillet, after seeing some mind-blowing pages of his on Tumblr (where else?). Being of impeccable taste, and unimpeachable integrity, Oliver informed me he did indeed, possess several works by Druillet and was happy (sort of) to let me borrow them. I'm yet to get around to doing much more than flicking through them and gawping slack-jawed- but even a cursory glance at these pages establishes Druillet as somewhat of a forgotten master of the medium. One of the founding figures of Humanoids along with Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Bernard Farkas and Moebius, Druillet's more recently been involved in film and opera than anything else, but at the very least, you should know his name- I find it inconceivable that he's not talked about more, or am I simply not reading the right sort of things? 

Anyway, the books Oliver lent me (pictured below) are Lone Sloane Delirius, Lone Sloane Chaos, and Yragael Urm. Yragael Urm especially: mind-blowingly wow. There's some traditional comics in there (in terms of text-boxes, layout), but the majority of it is huge, stonking painted double page spreads- horizontal and vertical- iconic, alien, and primitive- gods and monsters, the architecture vast and visionary- astounding, astounding work. Pages that make you feel small via the sheer scale, imagination, and energy coursing on them- his colours and composition are mesmerisingly exquisite . The Lone Sloane books incorporate more linear comics, but with a dizzying range of innovative panelling and layouts, and the spreads are still there.


I'm going to get around to reading and writing about these soon (briefly discussing them here has got me fired up to do so!), but the thrust here is that I came across some exciting news on the Eurocomics USA Invasion, which informs us that Titan will be bringing Druillet back into English language print, with a hardback release of The 6 Journeys of Lone Sloane in March next year. The book was previously published in English by NBM in 1991, and, I believe, the six short stories within it are actually contained in the edition of Delirius above. Both books are out of print, but copies are still in circulation on Amazon and Ebay for around £15-£30. Journeys was originally  published in 1972, Delirius in 1973, with Chaos following in 2000. The new edition from Titan will, hopefully (as is always the hope) introduce new readers to Druillet's work. Here's the brief solicitation blurb for the book:

'800 years after a catastrophic event called the "Great Fear",  Lone Sloane, a troubled space traveler, is captured by an entity called "He Who Seeks", after his space ship is destroyed. The entity transports him to different dimensions, where he faces a myriad of Lovecraftian challenges!A Sci-Fi Ulysess, forced to endlessly wander through the universe.'

Lone Sloane is Druillet's most famous creation: a tortured galactic wanderer, imbued with mystical powers and traversing a universe he doesn't understand. The six eight-page stories in Journeys serve to introduce the character and his initial wanderings. If, like me, you weren't aware of Druillet's work, mark this as one to look out for- the chances of disappointment are slim.



CAKE announce new mini-comic 'Cupcake' award


I'm not sure when this was announced, but it seems worth covering, for anyone who may have missed it, like me. The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo [CAKE] have announced a new Cupcake Award: 'a juried prize that supports the self-publishing of a new mini-comic by any artist who has not yet had a solo work printed by a publisher.' The winner is given $250 in order to print a new mini-comic, along with a free half table at next year’s CAKE (2015, where their comic will debut), in addition to advice and mentor support from special guest judge Annie Koyama, who will select the winner from 20 finalists. CAKE will promote the winning artist and their comic the lead up to next year’s show. Applications are open now- you can find more details here, and the deadline is August 31st. The award is for newer cartoonists, who have not yet had an individual work published.

'CAKE celebrates the diversity and vitality of Chicago’s indie comics and self-publishing scene, which has a history that stretches back to the mimeographed science fiction fanzines of the 1930s. The Cupcake Award is a means of continuing this tradition by encouraging and nurturing new talent.'